What happens when the director who brought you Brat and Brat 2 decides to mock the Russian gangster movie genre he created? The answer is Zhmurki (aka Dead Man's Bluff) directed by Aleksei Balabanov. The tagline of Zhmurki - "For those who survived the Nineties" - tells you what to expect.
Useless Factoid: Daughter of Russian Monarchist Wins Oscar
Dame Helen Mirren, recently awarded an Oscar for her potrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, "was born Ilyena Vasilievna [Lydia] Mironov...in Ilford, Essex, [United Kingdom] the second of three children of a father of Russian origin and an English mother. Mirren's paternal grandfather, a Russian nobleman, tsarist colonel and diplomat, was negotiating an arms deal in Britain and was stranded there, along with his family, during the Russian Revolution. Her father, Vasily Petrovich Mironov, called himself Basil and changed the family name to Mirren in the 1950s. He played the viola with the London Philharmonic before World War II and, after it, drove a cab and was a driving-test examiner...Her great-great-great-great-grandfather was field-marshal Mikhail Kamensky, one of the Russian heroes of the Napoleonic wars."
According to recent coverage, she does intend to visit "recently discovered relatives in Russia." But she probably won't be collecting her $9,200 from the Putin Administration any time soon as she declared in 1997 (after marrying her long-time partner):
I'm very proud of being childless. It's my contribution to world ecology.
On my recent trip to Moscow the first song I heard on the radio, right off the plane, was "V Klube" (In the Club) -- a new smash hit by 23-year old Russian rap-star Timati. Besides being featured prominently on the soundtrack of the current Russian blockbuster, Zhara, he has become popular among several demographics, especially with both teenagers and young professionals.
These days, Russian rap has become widely popular as it has departed from its old "chanson" (prison) ballads and dance pop origins. With both these popular post-Soviet formats the sound quality didn't matter and lyrics concentrated on the dangers of the army draft, hardships and nobility of imprisonment, racism, and teenage sex.
From Russia with Buckets of Blood - Volkodav (Wolfhound) Reviewed
Volkodav promises epic fantasy adventure but mainly delivers gore
Volkodav: Iz Roda Serykh Psov (Wolfhound from the Breed of Grey Dogs) has been touted as Russia's answer to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. At $13 million, Volkodav is the most expensive film shot in Russia thus far. Volkodav is the first film in an epic fantasy series, and given its success at the Russian box office, it probably won't be the last. However, all the money spent on Volkodav's spectacular cinema photography and special effects cannot make up for an unoriginal plot or gratuitous violence.
In fairness to director and screenwriter Nikolai Lebedev, the novelVolkodav by Mariya Semyonova was not as good source material as J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved classic for a feature film. Nonetheless, fantasy and sci-fi fans who watched Conan the Barbarian will immediately recognize the plot of this movie as almost exactly the same.
Russian Business News Delivered 24/7 - FM 87.5 Debuts in Moscow
A radio and TV tower in Moscow
In yet another sign of Russia's economic expansion, business news junkies in Moscow will soon be able to get their fix around the clock. Business FM 87.5 will begin broadcasting business news stories every half hour starting March 1, 2007, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.
Click on the extended post to read the full article.
The Russian billionaires club: Oleg Deripaska (left) with his friend Roman Abramovich (Photo by: The Moscow Times)
The UK Guardian is reporting this weekend that Oleg Deripaska is now the richest man in Russia. The 39 year old oligarch owns RusAl, which next month will merge with SUAL and Glencore to form the largest aluminum company in the world. Deripaska's net worth is conservatively estimated at $21.2 billion. Roman Abramovich, who mostly resides in London, is the second richest man in Russia with a $21 billion fortune.
However, in his interview with the UK Guardian, Deripaska denies being the wealthiest man in Russia, and claims that there are several people who should be well ahead of him on the list. Deripaska also comments on the difference in how Russia is viewed by politicians and the media in the West versus the attitude of Western investors, "We had discussion with our advisory board of one of our companies last week...there was one comment from a very prominent member of British society who said, 'If you look at the front page it's a disaster. But if you go further down to the economics page it's brilliant.' We try to live on the economics page."
Russia Blog has written frequently about Deripaska and Abramovich:
...Russia still looks better than some of the alternatives, says Clifford Kupchan, an analyst at New York City political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. 'The place is still Florida compared to Africa or the Middle East,' he says.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is apparently running short on cash. According to the International Herald Tribune, the Iranian regime has twice failed to pay $25 million in monthly payments to Rosatom, Russia's atomic energy agency, for work already completed on the Bushehr nuclear reactor.
Rosatom executives have confirmed that the Iranians failed to make their payment in full for the month of January and have not paid at all for this month. As a result, Rosatom has cancelled plans to deliver civilian-grade nuclear fuel to the reactor next month and is threatening to delay work at Bushehr. Russia is not willing to subsidize Iranian energy projects anymore than it was willing to keep subsidizing the former Soviet republics with cheap natural gas.
A new novel about the fight for the Kremlin in 2008 -- no conscience, no ethics, just money and hate
A new would be bestseller which lays bare the dirty tricks of political PR Russian-style and explains how the media manipulates people, just hit bookshelves and naive minds in Moscow.
The author, Sergei Minaev, first made headlines in culture magazines last year after publishing his first book Dukhless (roughly translated, "soulless"). The novel sold over half a million copies and detailed the inside world of top businessmen in Russia.
Like Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking which draws back the curtains of tobacco PR, Minaev penetrates the world of political PR in Russia and uses a mix of fictional characters and real life stories and events woven together to not only entertain, but to draw out interesting possibilities of events yet to come in Russia's future.
MosNews is reporting today that Congress may be willing to abolish the Jackson Vanik Amendments and fully normalize trade relations between the U.S. and Russia. RIA Novosti quoted House International Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, who is in Moscow this week, as saying that the amendments are part of a Cold War legacy that should be left behind.
Russia Blog had previously reported that most Russian analysts considered the new Democratic Congressional majority likely to be even more suspicious of Russia than the previous Republican-led Congress. However, it appears that in the wake of Vladimir Putin's speech last week in Munich, both the White House and senior Congressional leadership want to improve relations with Russia. In May 2005, Congressman Lantos called for Russia to be expelled from the G-8 for jailing Yukos oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It appears that Congressman Lantos has moderated his position on Russia since that time.
Click on the extended post to read the full MosNews article.
Moscow-based Russia Blog correspondent Timofey Chekhoyev has sent us some info about a Super Bowl party he attended at the Bleachers sports bar on February 4, 2007.
At least eighty NFL fans from all around the world paid 500 rubles ($19) for all the fries, chicken wings, hot dogs, and chili they could eat. Based on my recent personal experience dining out in downtown Moscow, that was a very good deal.
The party started at 11:30 p.m. Sunday night and the Super Bowl kicked off at 2:30 a.m. Moscow time. The crowd consisted mostly of Americans with a few Russians familiar with American football from their work and studies in the U.S. also in attendance. Fans rooting for the NFC Champion Chicago Bears slightly outnumbered fans representing the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts, but in the end Peyton Manning and the Colts hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy as the 2006-2007 Super Bowl Champions.
Rarely has Russia's leadership been so widely reviled in the West, yet rarely has the West needed Russia's friendship more.
The most obvious reason why the West needs Russia is the latter's abundance of natural resources, which Western governments have for decades assumed would always be at the disposal of their industries. Indeed, Europe has almost learned to take its dependence for granted, relying on its good fortune that, for the past three centuries, the Russian elite has identified itself wholeheartedly with European culture and values. The occasional voices that arose to call for a re-orientation eastward to Siberia, or southward to Central Asia, have never been more than marginal political or cultural influences.
Until today that is. Now that two-thirds of the world's GDP is generated in the Asia-Pacific arena, and European and American elites trumpet their increasing hostility towards Russia's economic and political resurgence, it becomes hard for even such an ardent Europhile as Vladimir Putin to argue that the country's destiny perforce lies with Europe. Translated into simple geopolitical terms, if the West cannot convince Russia that it deserves a "special relationship," then over the next two decades China and India, rather than Europe, will become the primary beneficiaries of Russia's resource abundance, and the axis of global political and economic development will shift accordingly.
Panorama is the new series of posts here at Russia Blog that will present the reader with photos and short descriptions of Russian cities and villages across the nation.
It is often said that Moscow and St. Petersburg are not the real Russia. So, after an amazing response to our photo tours of those two cities and in our continuing effort to have the readers of Russia Blog experience all eleven time zones of the Russian Federation, we are kicking off our Panorama series.
We begin with pictures of Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk) contributed by Anton Verstakov, an independent documentary producer, founder of AVProductions Creative Group, and a long time friend. In the past five years Anton worked as a News Editor for Russia Today TV and as a broadcast journalist/producer for the Rossija television channel (RTR). Mr. Verstakov travels extensively and we hope to benefit from his updates.
We also welcome your submissions with photos and bios of your hometown or a place in Russia you have visited in the past. (Extra points for pictures of locally purchased powdered sugar!)
So, please enjoy the City of Yekaterinburg--a historic jewel in the Urals as well as a center for steel production and mineral and semiprecious stone mining. The city is developing rapidly, shaking off its Communist heritage with dozens of new office buildings and polished church domes rising above the city center...
Screening of '9th Company' 2006 Oscar Submission for Best Foreign Film
Join us for a screening of one of the films submitted for the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, 9th Company - a Russian blockbuster about the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
The event will be held Thursday, March 1st at Discovery Institute, located at 1511 Third Ave, Suite 808 in downtown Seattle from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m.The movie will start at 5 p.m. Popcorn and soda will be served. The event is free and open to the public. Suggested donation of $5 is appreciated.
Robert Amsterdam, an attorney for jailed Yukos executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has republished excerpts from Prof. Economides' article in The Energy Tribuneon his blog. Mr. Amsterdam cites the report as further evidence that Russia cannot be trusted as a reliable supplier of energy to the world. Prof. Economides apparently shares this view. In a September 2006 Energy Tribune article, he condemned Russian foreign policy in recent years as "energy imperialism" and declared that "What Nikita Khrushchev tried to do with nuclear weapons during the Cold War almost half a century ago, Vladimir Putin is doing with oil and gas today."
Meanwhile, Russia is continuing to take steps to head off a potential crunch between supply and demand. The first, and most controversial part of Gazprom's strategy was raising prices on natural gas deliveries to Russia's neighbors. While conservation is usually described in the West as a good thing, Gazprom's price increases on Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus were mostly condemned by Western pundits as cases of politically motivated blackmail. The second part of Gazprom's strategy is, admittedly, the most politically tricky task - the state-owned monopoly plans to increase domestic natural gas prices paid by Russian industries and power plants. The third step necessary to head off Prof. Economides gloomy scenario is promoting alternative sources of energy for a Russian power grid still overwhelmingly dependent on cheap natural gas.
Sasha Belov, Gangster Superstar - Brigada: Season 2 Reviewed
Cover of Brigada: Season 2 DVD
Brigada: Season 2 (episode 10) begins several months after Season 1, during the mid-1990s. Egged on by his new "business partner" the former MVD Detective Vladimir Yevgenivich (Andrei Panin), Sasha Belov is making a killing selling weapons to both sides in the First Chechen War. One morning Belov wakes up to a radio news story about teenage Russian conscripts getting slaughtered in Grozny with his wares.
Meanwhile, Cosmos (Dimitri Dyuzhev), tormented by guilt over the Brigade's blood money, has developed a nasty cocaine habit to kill the pain. One day, while Cosmos is driving around Moscow high on cocaine, a black cat crosses the path of his Mercedes sedan, and he wrecks his car. When Belov comes to visit Cosmos after he is released from the hospital, Cosmos reveals that he was the man who shot the Detective's cousin dead in 1989, triggering the four "brothers" life of crime. Cosmos also tells Belov that he doesn't trust Pychela (Pavel Maikov) anymore, because "he would sell his mother to a whorehouse just to make a buck."
"Shoe bangs, shoe bangs..."
Nikita Krushchev at the United Nations, September 29, 1960
From the hysterical coverage given to Putin's remarks at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, the casual observer might think he was pulling a Krushchev. Much of the "Cold War rhetoric" actually comes from politicians in other democratic states making use of Russia as a whipping boy for their inability to deal constructively or timely with a myriad of foreign policy issues. Putin addressed the audience as only an elected official secure at the end of his successful two-term run can - with candor.
Putin used his remarks to clarify Russia's (and Russians') position on several issues. His response to reporters' pointed questions were the most telling and the speech and Putin's answers can be read in full (in English no less) on the Kremlin homepage.
On international double standards, perceptions of unfairness, and why it's not hard to understand why Russia is becoming a leading voice of constructive criticism from developing and transitional economies:
Foreign companies participate in all our major energy projects. According to different estimates, up to 26 percent of the oil extraction in Russia -- and please think about this figure -- up to 26 percent of the oil extraction in Russia is done by foreign capital. Try, try to find me a similar example where Russian business participates extensively in key economic sectors in western countries. Such examples do not exist! There are no such examples.
I would also recall the parity of foreign investments in Russia and those Russia makes abroad. The parity is about fifteen to one. And here you have an obvious example of the openness and stability of the Russian economy.
The Hermitage Museum is one of the greatest collections of historic and cultural artifacts in the world. A tourist could spend several days walking through the corridors of the Hermitage and still only see a fraction of its treasures. The Russian Ark, a film recorded in one continuous shot inside the Hermitage, showed thirty three rooms in the palace and featured over 2,000 actors in period costumes and three live orchestras for the soundtrack. .
Unfortunately, I only had 2 1/2 hours to tour the palace during my brief visit to St. Petersburg. These photos are the result of that whirlwind tour. Click on the extended post to begin the photo tour of the Hermitage!
Misrepresenting the Truth -- WSJ Gives Khodorkovsky's Defense Counsel a Platform
Mikhail Khodorkovksy and Platon Lebedev in jail (Photo by Itar-Tass) Read the original article in the extended post
Why are Beltway-types indignant about Enron, but not Khodorkovsky?
What is the motivation for a respectable outlet like The Wall Street Journal to continue to publish the lies and libelous screeds of a convicted felon?
Don't people who support the rule of law understand that it involves prosecuting criminals and making them pay for their crimes?
"The Kremlin this week showed that democracy, human rights and the rule of law are dead in Vladimir Putin's Russia. With extraordinarily cynical timing, new charges -- this time, money-laundering -- were brought against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who once ran Russia's largest oil company, Yukos," writes Robert Amsterdam, Mikhail Khodorkovsky's international defense counsel, on the pages of the WSJ.
"These charges have nothing to do with upholding Russia's laws," continues Mr. Amsterdam. "They have everything to do with the fact that Mr. Khodorkovsky would have been eligible for parole later this year, having served half his eight-year sentence on a politically motivated tax evasion conviction handed down in 2005. Another show trial will surely propel the machinery of so-called justice toward another preordained guilty verdict."
The following photos are the results of walking and bus tours of St. Petersburg on Friday, January 12 and Saturday, January 14, 2007. This is the second part in a series of photo blog posts about Russia's second city. Click here to view part one, "Walking Through St. Petersburg: The Admiralty and St. Isaac's Cathedral". The third and final installment in the series features photos from my visit to the State Hermitage Museum, one the world's greatest collections of masterpieces and artifacts.
Click on the extended post to resume the photo tour!
These photos are the result of Russia Blog editor Charles Ganske's visit to St. Petersburg between January 11 and 14, 2007. The city, known as Leningrad in Soviet times, was the capital of Russia from the 1700s until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.Today it is the second largest urban center in the Russian Federation and the northernmost city with a population over one million people. St. Petersburg's northern latitude means that the sun doesn't quite set during the famous White Nights in June, when most tourists like to visit. The city of 4.7 million people also is the second largest in Europe in size, trailing only London in terms of landmass.
Peter the Great created St. Petersburg to be Russia's gateway to Europe and the West. The nearly 7 foot-tall emperor fought a long war with Sweden to secure this bustling port on the Baltic Sea and to build a base for the Russian Navy the Czar ordered built to make Russia a great European power.
In recent years Ford, Nissan and Toyota have all built auto plants near St. Petersburg, and the Chinese are investing billions of dollars into new infrastructure and commercial developments for the region. St. Pete (or "Piter" as it is known to Russians) also remains a center for high culture, the arts, and Russian breweries. Visitors will immediately notice the difference between the fresh air and tourist-friendly atmosphere in St. Petersburg and the more hurried pace of life in Moscow. By design, the old imperial capital has a more European, if not Scandinavian feel to it.
St. Petersburg is also the hometown of Russian President Vladimir Putin and many high government officials. The Governor of the St. Petersburg region, Valentina Matviyenko, is a personal friend of Putin. Matviyenko was a classmate of the future Russian President when they both attended what was then known as Leningrad State University. Russia's state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom plans to relocate its corporate headquarters from Moscow to the northern capital next year. For all of these reasons, some American expats have nicknamed the city "Putingrad".
This is the first part in a series of three photo posts about Russia's second city. To see Yuri Mamchur's photo series "Night Drive Through Moscow", click here. Click on the extended post to begin the St. Petersburg photo tour. Please be patient as photos may take some time to upload.
Last week the Toronto Star published an article on the emerging Russian middle class. While these type of articles have become quite common in Western media outlets over the last year, the interesting thing is that after eight years of economic expansion, prosperous Russians going shopping is still news in the West. Perhaps the reason is that some Western pundits still peddle Cold War stereotypes about the Russian economy and deny the existence of a middle class in Russia.
Click on the extended post to read the full article (hat tip: Copydude blog)
Banking for the people - Sberbank has 62% of retail bank
accounts in Russia but only 29% of total savings
Sberbank, the largest retail bank in Russia, announced plans last week to become a publicly traded company, according to RIA Novosti news agency. According to the company website, Sberbank currently holds 62% of consumer bank accounts, 29% of total deposits and 50% of retail and 32% of the commercial loans in Russia. For the IPO Sberbank plans to sell 3.5 million shares worth an estimated $11.5 billion.
In Moscow and St. Petersburg, Sberbank's green signs are ubiquitous and there are branches and ATMs in almost every neighborhood.
"I do not rule, I simply do my work" -- Vladimir Putin
February 1, 2007 -- Kremlin, Moscow -- President Vladimir Putin met with 1,200 journalists and gave a speech summing up events of the last year. For the first time ever, video cameras presented a view from above the interview table where the president usually sits, to prove that he doesn't use any notes or listening devices to help him answer questions. As usual, Mr. Putin was relaxed in his language and used slang, producing few amazing interactions with journalists (read the full transcript in the extended post). Russians usually don't learn any new information from such meetings; however, everyone loves to watch the event, because it comes out as fairly entertaining.
Answering a question about the recent murder of Alexander Litvinenko, Putin said that the former security agent "didn't know any secrets, and was wanted in Russia for abusing his powers and beating up citizens during arrests when he was an employee of a security agency." Putin stated further that Litvinenko "was also wanted for stealing explosive devices. He got a three year suspended sentence and didn't need to run anywhere. He didn't know any secrets at all! Anything negative he could've said about his service he had already said, so there could've been nothing new coming out of his actions. What's happened should be answered by the [British] investigation."